A first-person account of what works and what does not with popular diets
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While every diet has some benefits, not all diets deliver the desired results. One that is successful should provide the body with enough energy to carry on with a regular lifestyle, while helping in the goal of detoxing or losing weight.
“As a thumb rule, a diet should include balanced portions of all food groups so that you do not lose out on nutrients,” says Rajeswari Shetty, head of dietetics at Mumbai’s SL Raheja Hospital.
Any detoxification, however, will leave you lacking in some nutrition or the other. “The kidneys and liver take care of detoxification naturally. But if you still want to cleanse (your system), try drinking moong dal paani, or lukewarm water with lemon juice, instead of giving up on food,” adds Shetty.
I tried a few popular diets to see which ones provided me with the energy to carry on with my daily activities, and which ones sapped my energy or made me irritable. If you want to achieve the desired results, you should continue these diets (except detoxes) for at least two months. Do consult a dietitian before trying any of them.
The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet is regarded as a brain-healthy diet, and includes green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, wholegrains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. There are large portions of lentils and vegetables. The foods to be avoided are red meat, dairy, sweets and fried food.
“This diet is said to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s (although this has not been proven yet) and prevent heart diseases. However, one must be careful of the portion size. For example, too many leafy greens for someone who is not used to them can lead to indigestion,” says Shetty.
Number of days: Four
My take: With this diet, I could do my workouts (I ran twice and did CrossFit once during this period) easily. And I did not get food cravings.
What I ate in a day: 100g chicken, half a broccoli, 50g sprouts, a small bowl of brown rice (every alternate day), along with tomatoes and beans. I skipped the wine, a glass of which is recommended every day in this diet.
Followed by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, the ketogenic diet involves eating a high amount of good fats like nuts, cream and butter and cutting out white bread, pasta and sugar, which are high on carbohydrates. By keeping off carbohydrates, which is our main source of energy, the body goes into ketosis—and starts burning fat for energy.
According to Caleb Linn, nutritionist and strength specialist at Velocity Fitness Consulting, a Hyderabad-based health and nutrition consulting firm: “During ketosis, your blood runs out of glucose and starts burning fat for energy. Since this takes longer to break down (compared to carbohydrates), it is not suitable for high-intensity exercises (where you need immediate energy). But long-distance endurance athletes like marathoners and cyclists have enough time (as against sprinters) to break the fat down to give them the energy required.”
Number of days: Three
My take: Three days is not enough to let the body get used to the absence of carbohydrates. I felt lighter, and did not feel hungry. And I did have enough energy to do my morning runs twice during the three days.
What I ate in a day: Two eggs, two bowls of salads, and a bowl of vegetable curry made in very little olive oil, 70g paneer (cottage cheese) and coconut water.
Juicing (detox diet)
If your aim is a detox, you need a juice-based diet. This should primarily be vegetable juice. Fruit juice should be limited to, say, about 10% of your total diet, for it has more natural sugar and less fibre. Drinking a lot of water through the day, and staying away from solid foods, is recommended.
“A juice diet is not sustainable for long since you do not get enough calories. Also, the excessive fibre from the juices can lead to diarrhoea,” says Linn. He suggests including juices in your regular, balanced diet gradually rather than shocking your body into juicing for weight loss.
Number of days: Two
My take: This obviously led to frequent visits to the toilet. By the end of Day 1, I felt weak and dizzy even while climbing stairs. I was also craving salty food, since the juices were mostly on the sweet side.
What I drank in a day: I ordered the two-day juice cleanse package (Rs3,000) from Raw Pressery, a cold-pressed juice manufacturer—the package comprised six 410ml bottles for each day. The 12 juices were a combination of cucumber, kale, coconut water, lemon grass, beetroot, aloe vera, etc. They were to be taken every 2-3 hours.
Souping (detox diet)
This is more filling than juicing because vegetable or chicken soup can fill you up while providing the body with the much-needed nutrients. Rashi Chowdhary, nutrition and weight loss expert, believes that while this diet is rich in fibre, it is not sustainable in the long run. “You can add as much variety as you like—by adding grains and lentils—but you are still being deprived of the satisfaction of having a plate of grilled meat with vegetables or sweet potato with quinoa,” she says.
Number of days: Two
My take: While this was easier than juicing, it wasn’t really a great diet. I did not feel hungry, but I did not feel energetic either.
What I drank in a day: I had a glass of cold soup thrice a day, and a regular bowl of soup for lunch and dinner. To this, I added two spoons of brown rice, half a bowl of chopped vegetables and 50g chicken.